This not just journalistic malpractice; it’s also an echo of the constant barrage of male journalism in the 2016 cycle that painted Hillary Clinton as an unacceptably corrupt extremist (a disturbing number of whom have resigned in disgrace following revelations of sexual misconduct). It is why getting elected as a woman remains a massive challenge.
Two men discuss the election in Georgia. Their framing mechanism is this: good ole Georgia, a bastion of moderation, is now confronting an election in which two extremists leave the poor citizens of the state with none of the moderate choices they have carefully cultivated in recent decades. I kid you not:
“In the five decades since the death of legal segregation, the image-conscious state has been led by a succession of white male centrist governors — first moderate Democrats, then, for the last 16 years, right-leaning Republicans. They have more often than not been steady and bland, focused on improving education, corporate recruitment and job growth. The unemployment rate has declined by more than 6 percentage points since the current governor, Nathan Deal, took office in 2011.”Having set up the extremely rigged terms of debate (those governors’ “moderation” is in the eye of the beholder, and the drop in unemployment exactly mirrors the country’s 6% drop over the same period), the authors then describe the two candidates afflicting the state in 2018. One is running on a nakedly racist platform (in one ad he bragged of personally rounding up illegals) and is, as the authors acknowledge, so extreme he’s spooked business leaders. The other is ... a black woman. The authors can’t identify any actual extremism, citing her support of immigrants and Medicare, and so turn to Republican informants to paint the picture of her horrors:
“Republicans warn that Ms. Abrams, who hopes to expand Medicaid health coverage for the poor and disabled, will raise taxes they have cut, reverse the state’s job growth, deplete its rainy-day surplus and threaten its superior bond ratings.”Race is never mentioned as a factor in the election, nor gender. An alien reading the article would no idea the history of slavery or the civil rights era had anything to do with the politics of the state. The closest the authors get is this, a tell that gives away the game: “By contrast, Mr. Kemp, 54, is a drawling agri-businessman from Athens who has revived a populist style that has lain dormant in Georgia since the late 1960s.” A “populist style” lain dormant since the 1960s? Why, whatever could that mean?
Nor do the authors note that the racist undercurrents have switched parties. At one point, a former governor speaks favorably of “moderates” like Zell Miller, one of those 1960s Dems who opposed the civil rights act and became a Republican in later life—endorsing Dubya and working on Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign. Crocodile tears, please, for the passing of these wonderful, neutral, bland old standard-bearers of yore.
These articles are going to keep being written by white dudes for the next few years. What counts as the baseline, moderate—and to the writers, “reasonable”—position will always be a white man equidistant in rhetoric between the parties’ extremes. Women, whether Stacey Abrams, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, or Kamala Harris, will by virtue of their gender seem dangerously extreme. Only their election will change this—and more women reporting the news.